Longtime Ventura County Supervisor Maggie Kildee announced Wednesday that she is dropping her bid for a fifth term, throwing wide open the race in a district that stretches from Camarillo to Santa Paula.
"I love this job very much," said Kildee, who was joined by friends and family at a morning news conference at the Spanish Hills Golf and Country Club in her hometown of Camarillo. "However, there are some personal things now that I would like to do."
Kildee, who had already begun campaigning for the March, 1996, election, said she wanted to announce her intentions early to allow more potential candidates a chance to enter the supervisorial race.
"I thought it was important to let people know to ensure that there is a good field of strong candidates out there," said Kildee, who turned 63 on Monday.
Camarillo Mayor Mike Morgan and Fillmore Councilman Roger Campbell have already announced their candidacies.
Moments after Kildee disclosed her retirement, her aide and former Santa Paula City Councilman Adolfo Escoto announced his plan to enter the race. "The more the merrier," he said.
With her voice quivering from emotion, Kildee told reporters that she and her husband, Bob, who will be 75 in August, had been discussing their plans for the future during a trip to New York last week when they made a "spur-of-the-moment decision."
"Bob made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Kildee said. "He said, 'If you retire at the end of 1996, so will I.' That seemed like a good thing for us."
Kildee said that politics had nothing to do with her decision to step down, even though some county officials believe she faced her toughest reelection campaign.
For years, Kildee, a former schoolteacher, has been a consensus builder on the powerful board.
Recently, however, she has found herself at odds with a majority of the five-member panel on some key issues, including steering more dollars to law enforcement agencies and selecting a new chief administrative officer.
But such issues were not a factor in her choice, Kildee said. Nor was the recent departure of Chief Administrative Officer Richard Wittenberg, a close friend and political ally. Wittenberg took the top administrative job in Santa Clara County.
"The decision was not so much wanting to leave the job," she said. "The decision was based on wanting to do other things, like slowing down and spending more time with Bob."
Bob Kildee, who runs a men's clothing store in Camarillo, said he was happy that his wife had taken him up on his offer. The couple were married four years ago.
"She's been thinking about this for some time," he said. "Sixteen years, that's one of the longest terms that anyone has served on the Board of Supervisors. That's a career."
Supervisor Susan Lacey, who made history with Kildee when they became the first women ever elected to the board in 1980, said Kildee has made a major contribution to the county. She noted Kildee's strong support of health care for the needy and her efforts to preserve farmland.
"I'm going to miss her," said Lacey, who is seeking reelection. "We've always laughed about how we were the first two women on the board."
Supervisor Judy Mikels said she was not prepared for Kildee's announcement. "I'm really surprised because I thought she was going all out [for her reelection]," she said.
Although they seldom agreed on issues, Mikels said she and Kildee have had a good working relationship.
"She's been a good supervisor," Mikels said. "Whether you agree with her or not, she never did anything for her own personal agenda. I think she honestly cared."
Supervisor Frank Schillo praised Kildee for her efforts to build a partnership over the years between government and business to improve the local economy.
"I was surprised by her decision," Schillo said. "It's got to be a tough decision after 15 years."
Schillo and Mikels said they believed that Kildee's recent vote against giving Proposition 172 sales-tax revenues to certain public-safety agencies would have hurt her reelection bid.
"I think it really would have been tough," Mikels said. "I'm not sure what the outcome would have been. But I think it would have been close enough to be a heart-stopper."
Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury, who butted heads with Kildee over budget matters, also believed that Kildee faced a "tough reelection." He said he respects her wish to spend more time with her husband.
"At this stage in their lives, they want to spend more time together," Bradbury said. "I think that's wonderful. I wish them all the best."
Supervisor John K. Flynn, whose relationship with Kildee had become strained in recent years, believes that Wittenberg's departure was a major influence in her decision to retire.
"He pretty much told her what to do, as far as I'm concerned," said Flynn, who has served on the board for nearly 20 years. "With his being gone . . . I think that bothers her.
"She allowed Richard Wittenberg to run everything," he said. "And others joined in with her. . . . Richard became a board member by default. He filled a vacuum of leadership and took over."
Flynn said they got along well when Kildee was elected to the board, but they were never close.
"I have not been an ally of Maggie Kildee," he said. "I have tried to find an angel in everyone's eyes. I am always looking to see an angel. With her, I've never seen it. That saddens me."
Kildee dismissed Flynn's criticism, saying he was upset merely because "he didn't get his way all the time."
"I'm sorry Mr. Flynn feels like he has to take a stab at people," she said. "Whatever is wrong between us runs too deep. But I will not say anything bad about him."
Wittenberg also declined comment on Flynn's views. He said he was sorry to learn of Kildee's decision to retire.
"I'm saddened because the county of Ventura is losing a wonderful supervisor," Wittenberg said, "one that is fair-minded, one that has never been afraid to speak her mind and one that has always been independent."